This checklist is a good starting point for you as you begin your business. It is in no way meant to be a substitute for professional advice or counsel.
For more information about starting a business, contact your local SBDC.
Formalize Your Idea
Formally select a business idea, product or service that you will sell. This may sound like an easy step, but think hard about what exactly you will be selling and whether you have the skills and qualifications to run a business. This is also a good time to start thinking about the feasibility of making your business idea profitable.
Research and Planning
Research the business industry.
- What will you sell? Is it legal? Who will buy it? How often?
- Are you willing and able to do what it takes to sell your product?
- Who are the competitors?
- What will your product cost to produce, market, sell, and deliver? Can you make a profit? How long will it take for your business to make a profit?
- What compliance issues do you need to address?
Write a business plan. Make sure it includes your management, marketing, production and financial strategies.
If you are going to have a web site, be sure to register the domain name.
- Using a domain registry service, see if the business name is available for use as an Internet domain name. Visit any of the innumerable domain providers--even if you aren't ready to use it yet. Your dream URL might already be taken.
If you are going to have a brick-and-mortar presence, research possible locations for your business. Where appropriate, analyze that location for traffic, parking, customer and delivery access.
Check zoning laws.
- Zoning ordinances differ among townships and boroughs.
- The PA E-Library is good website that offers zoning ordinances for townships throughout the state (but only if the township posts it).
- Always talk to the zoning officer and get a copy of the ordinance at the Township and document it. There are often discrepancies in versions of Township ordinances. Also ask for any recent amendments that might not be in the book.
- Make sure to look at an up to date zoning map and get the zoning officer to make a determination of which zone the property is in and what relief may be needed.
Organize Your Business Structure
Learn more about the differences in business structure and determine the best one for your venture. The most common choices are: sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation.
- If your business will be a sole proprietorship and you will be using an assumed name, you must check the avail ability of the name you have chosen and register it.
- If your business will be a partnership, draw up your partner ship agreement. If the partner ship will be using an assumed name, register the fictitious name.
- If your business will be a corporation, file Articles of Incorporation.
For registration help, visit the Pennsylvania Department of State, Corporation Bureau or the Online Business Registration Interview (OBRI), a step-by-step wizard that guides users through the process of registering an enterprise with the Departments of Labor & Industry, Revenue, and State. It is designed for users who are unfamiliar with Pennsylvania taxes, services, and business registration requirements. Also, Enterprises that have not registered their Limited Liability Company, Corporation, Limited Partnership, Limited Liability Partnership, or Fictitious Name with the Department of State.
Register with the Proper Authorities
Register for state taxes with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.
- Complete the PA 100, an online fill-in form that allows users to register an enterprise with the Departments of Labor & Industry and Revenue, but does not register the enterprise with the Department of State. It is designed for users who are familiar with the PA-100 process and know the taxes and services for which they need to register.
Register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS.
Apply for contractors registration through Attorney General.
Apply for Sales Tax ID through the Department of Revenue.
If you will have employees:
Protect your Intellectual Property
Register or reserve your federal trademark/servicemark.
Apply for patent if you will be marketing an invention.
Order any required notices of your intent to do business in the community by advertising the fictitious name.
Install a business phone or extra residential phone lines, if necessary.
Get adequate business insurance or a business rider to a homeowner's policy.
Square away financial and tax issues.
- Get tax information such as recordkeeping requirements, facts about estimating taxes, forms of organizations, etc.
- Open a bank account for the business.
Purchase equipment and/or supplies.
Order inventory, signage, and fixtures.
Marketing and Branding
Establish a marketing presence and visual identity
- Have business cards and stationery printed.
- Get an e-mail address.
- Find a Web hosting company and have your Web site designed and set up. If you want people to take you seriously, you need a professional web presence. Unless you’re a designer, don’t design your own site. Hire someone or use a service.
- Determine whether you need sales literature (brochures, flyers, etc) created and printed.
- Research how to advertise your business for free online with services such as Google Places, Bing Business, Yahoo! Local or the Yellow Pages. Also if appropriate, consider establishing a presence on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.